The Story


30 years ago brought the first superhumans, regular people given great power seemingly at random.

15 years ago brought the paranormals, stranger and often weaker in their abilities, but far more numerous.

Today, the world holds its breath...

Or at least, it should.

Most people, though, are just trying to get on with their lives; some successfully, some less so. It's a sensible goal, but it's a bit hard to achieve when shadowy conspiracies and worldwide N.G.O.s are turning your city into a proxy battleground over world-shattering secrets. 

It's bad enough when you've just woken up with superpowers and terrorists are holding your school hostage. It's even worse if you're an illegal vigilante stuck in the middle of the whole Charlie Foxtrot after a supervillain raid drops vital information in your lap. 

For Hannah Eiling-Kingsford and Flint Perez, life is about to get a lot harder to get on with.

-----

Outliers is a superhero story. Okay, so not so much superhero as vaguely superhero-ish. It's about two teenagers dealing with, among other things, new powers, psycho exes, mysterious datapads and a giant, secret war between the foremost powers-that-be, over information that could forever change the world.

Again.

You know, normal teenage stuff.


Outliers updates Tuesdays and Fridays at midnight AEST.

Prepared 20-IX

HANNAH
Surrounded By Idiots.

The chorus of protests was loud enough they probably heard it on the other side of town.

“Absolutely. Not.” Awestruck’s voice boomed over everyone else, drowning them out, and triggering a primal fear instinct in me that made we want to find something large and solid to hide under. “You’ve finally lost it.”

“Were you not listening?” Galvanize said, frustration bleeding through the artificial filtering. “If I’m right, we don’t have enough firepower. Even with them, we might not have enough.”

If you’re right.”

“I am.” There was nothing smug about the words. They were heavy with worry and a sort of dreading certainty. “But if I’m not, you can destroy my career all you like, and then throw this lot in jail cells afterwards.”

“Awestruck,” Paladin interceded. “Maybe we listen to her? When was the last time she acted like this?”

“...Lazarus,” he admitted grudgingly.

Never heard of it.

“Sabah will know. Or it’s classified, one of the two.”

“Yeah. So maybe the benefit of the doubt is earned here.”

Awestruck grimaced, turning away from her to face the Outliers, and by extension, me. “If any of you try anything,” he said flatly, “I will make sure you never see the sun again.”

“Hey, when was the last time we had any water?”

...uh, before we got on the train to the market? I think? Now’s a weird time to think about that.

“Not really. One, apparently we’re going to need to fight, and not being dehydrated would probably help. Two, on the other hand, it’s probably good that we didn’t, because we’d probably have pissed ourselves there.”


“...oh.”

Yeah.

“Ooh yeah,” Skew said sarcastically. “Be worried about all the trickery we’re going to pull from down here on the ground.”

“While dyin’,” Ricochet added.

“Those two are really leaning into the Greek Chorus thing, huh.”

“Instance,” Paladin asked, looking down at the two of them, “do you have any healing saved?”

“Minor ones,” he replied, sounding worried, “but nothing that’ll heal a gunshot wound.”

“Stabilize her, then, and bind them. Away from each other, not together. You two, try anything and, as bad as you might feel now, you’ll be longing for it once I’m done with you.”

“Aww,” Skew cooed as the hero approached, “we don’t get to be press ganged? I’m so disappointed.”

“You two know you’re not actually funny, right?” Instance asked as he leant over Ricochet. “Like, you have to know. You seem pretty self-aware.” He motioned for her to move her hands away from the wound, and laid one of his own over it. A harsh grey light began emanating from it, mildly unnerving to look at.

“I’m touched.”

“Not a compliment.” He withdrew his hand, to reveal the wound and the surrounding material were all now that same shade of grey. “That’s a stasis effect. It’s not going to get any better, but it’s not going to get worse either.” Standing back up, he brushed his hands off. “Fog?”

I turned around just in time to see her sweep past me, nearly bowling me over. Oh, right, she hates me, doesn’t she. I’d forgotten about that. With a quick gesture from her, fog flooded over the two injured, and snapped into restraints, and a small wall in between them.

“Oh sure,” Skew said, “because without this, we’d just hop right up and take you all on.”

“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Instance replied, sounding mildly amused. “You have to-”

“Found her,” Galvanize’s voice boomed out. “Everyone, follow me.” She swivelled away from us, towards a side street.

“You haven’t actually given us any reason to do that, you do realize.” It was… Flatline, that was it, speaking for the first time that I’d heard that night.

“No, I haven’t given you any choice. Now move.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Guys.” It was Skew’s voice, but… serious? It almost sounded strange. “Go. I’m pretty sure this is a big deal.”

“Are you sure?” Tide asked.

“Yeah. We’ll be fine. Go.” She turned to me. “I’m assuming you’re going?”

I scratched my head. “I kinda think I have to?” Plus, beating on Green Cloak sounds really nice right now.

“You do,” Galvanize confirmed. “Enough chatter, we need to move.” Her mech set off down the street. “Outliers in the middle. Guardians on the end.” Valiant followed her, and, tentatively, so did the others.

“I don’t know exactly what we’re going to find,” Galvanize began explaining. “This entire situation is shrouded in layers and layers of deception and false information. But I’ve gathered enough to know that someone who has possession of the information on that datapad is going to be capable of doing some horrible things. A teleporter doubly so.”

“You can’t be more specific?” Paladin asked.

“And why,” Awestruck growled, “are we now only hearing about this.”

“No I cannot, and because it was just speculation and hearsay before. The relevant people were kept in the loop.”

“So basically,” Tide called out, “we’re cannon fodder.”

“Yes,” the hero replied bluntly, which seemed to take the wind out of her sails somewhat.

Kai, who had been doing her best to make herself invisible, hadended up lumped in with the Outliers along with me. She  was muttering to herself, arms folded tightly, and when I tried to walk closer to her she moved away.

“She blames us for dragging her into this. Which is pretty fair, to be honest.”

We’ve been dragged into this just as much as she has!

“Right, because these things are always so logical. And you know that’s not true anyway.”

...darn.

Without Skew, I had no real way of interacting with the Outliers, so I ended up at the back of the group, right in front of the Guardians. I realized my mistake just a hand came clamping down on my shoulder.

“You have some explaining to do,” Stump growled from above me.

I’d had enough.

I ghosted, and he stumbled as his arm went straight through me. I kept walking. “Look,” I said, feeling somewhat justifiably irritated, “I know it looks bad. But I didn’t ‘betray’ you, I didn’t stab you in the back, I’m not working any angle. I was trying to find the Prowlers like you asked me to. I can’t help it if the universe wants to keep throwing me in with these gosh-darned idiots, but I’m not with them.”

“And Stonewall?” he asked, flat. Now it was my turn to stumble.

“You forgot about that, didn’t you.”

WE’VE BEEN BUSY, OKAY?

“That,” I said with as much false confidence as I could muster, “was extenuating circumstances.”

“Which were?”

“Extenuating.” I could feel him glaring at me.

“Ha- Wisp.” Wait, did he- “Are you trying to handle everything in the worst way possible?

“No!” I protested. “It just… keeps working out that way.” It sounded weak, even to me.

“Once this is over, there are going to be consequences. You know that, right?”

I sighed. “I’m… not really good at thinking ahead. Right now I’m just trying to concentrate on the here and now.”

“Maybe not the worst idea,” he conceded. “But, please. That stunt you pulled cost us a lot. Just… think, please? Even just a little? About others, if not about yourself?”

I looked ahead, at Kai. “...I’ll try,” I said quietly. “But right now, I really do think the present is probably more important.”

“I guess that’ll have to do.” He let himself start slowing, moving back towards the others. “Oh, and stay away from Fog. She hates you even more, now.”

I groaned. “Why did she even hate me in the first place?”

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” he admitted. “I’m not really sure she does.” I glanced back at him, and sure enough, I could see her glaring at me from behind him.

That’s comforting.

“Hey, we have a nemesis! There are worse things to have.”

She is not my nemesis. Also, that’s dumb, I don’t have a nemesis.

“What about Green Cloak?”

...shush up.

“Stump had a point, you know. A good point.”

Can we not rehash this again? Not now?

“Fine. But it needs hashing, sooner or later.”

Later.

“It better be. Also, was it just me or did he-”

LATER.

I glanced back over my shoulder, checking to see if Fog was still glaring at me (she was). As I did, though, I saw something flash across a rooftop. Just for the briefest of moments, a flicker of white.

Did you see that?

“See what?”

...never mind. It was probably nothing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support familiar phrases (worn-out places, worn-out phrases),  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Prepared 20-VIII

FLINT
King Undisputed.

In retrospect, I only had myself to blame for this. Noticing something about the Tower, and then dismissing it? I might as well have A-framed my legs and hung a “Kick Me” sign above my crotch.

“I’m gonna assume this is somehow yer fault,” Ricochet said to me.

I sighed. “I’m so glad we’re friends.”

The Tower heroes dropped down from the rooftop, Balthazar levitating those that couldn’t take the fall on their own. “All of you,” boomed Awestruck, hovering above the ground, “get down on the ground and put your hands behind your head. You are under arrest.” I’d never been inclined to see him in a particularly heroic light, but right then, he looked downright villainous; mixed shades of grey in his costume, harsh shadows on the lines of his face from the light Paladin’s glowing armor was putting off. He raised a hand and pointed, and with a whipcrack noise, a shockwave tore up the ground in front of Kai, who had been trying to sneak away. “All of you.”

“Can you move your hands?” I asked Ricochet, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Cause I can’t.”

She waggled a few of her fingers, currently applying pressure to her wound. “Well, I can. Should is another thing.”

“Well, we’re on the ground already, right? Points for effort.”

“Don’ think they’re gonna go for that.”

Predictably, the others weren’t obeying either. Thankfully, the Prowlers and mercs had already been secured, or they probably would've taken the surprise of the new arrivals as an opportunity. The Outliers had been somewhat spread-out, but I could see pretty easily that once things popped off, they'd mostly be moving directly towards Stonewall and Vortex, who could protect them from the first blows Which, you know, indomitable spirit and all that, but I really wasn’t seeing a way out of this. We couldn’t fight Valiant on their own while fresh; with the Guardians, while injured and under-strength? Even the most compulsive gambler wouldn’t put money on that. Still, if we were gonna go down, going down fighting seemed pretty good to me, even if I couldn’t actually stick to it myself.

“You have five seconds to comply.” All of them stood at the ready, various appendages, tools or parts beginning to glow or move. “Four.” The Outliers shifted slightly, doing the same. “Three.” Kai, muttering words I couldn’t hear in a high-pitched, strained tone, dropped straight down to the ground and covered her head. Less obeying instructions, and more trying to make herself less of a target. “Two.” And Wisp was-

“O-”

“Wait!” As tense as things were, the sudden cry made almost everyone jump. “Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait!” Wisp rose out of the ground in between the two groups. What the fuck? “Just… please, wait.”

“Why?” asked Stump. “So you can lie to our faces and then stab us in the back again?”

Again, what the fuck?

“What? Argh, no, that’s not-” She paused, clenching and unclenching her hands. “Now isn’t the time. That datapad you were all looking for? Green Cloak just took it.”

Dead silence.

I let my head slump back onto the tarmac. Well, at least she didn’t say that we had it in the first place.

The reaction, though, wasn’t what I was expecting. Or from who I was expecting. “...you’re sure?” asked the artificial voice of Galvanize. And even through the filtering, she sounded worried.

“Positive,” Wisp said, sounding a little uncertain.

“We need to find her,” the hero said, turning to the others. “Now.

“What?” Paladin asked. “What’s going on.”

“No time to explain.” Her oddly-shaped mech began to rise, until it was about half a story off the ground. “We need to find her, before it’s too late.” Small panels began opening on the mech, sensory devices sliding out of them and pointing in different directions.

“It’s just a datapad.” Balthazar said, disbelieving. “How much harm-”

“There is a strong chance we will all die,” Galvanize said curtly. “There is an absolute chance that many, many people will die.”

“I don’t think-” Paladin began, but Awestruck cut in over her.

“She’s right.” He turned to the Guardians. “You handle this. It will be a good training exercise.”

“Ya hear that?” Ricochet snorted. “Hey, we’re a trainin’ exercise. Glad to be of service.”

“Absolutely not,” Galvanize said. “We’re not leaving behind any potential firepower. You’re all coming with us too.”

Christ. It was possible the hero was overreacting, but somehow, I didn’t think it was likely. We’d sort of know, or suspected, that the datapad contained dangerous information, but they way she was talking about it was more like a weapon. Suddenly, I was very glad we’d managed to get it away from Edith. If she had gotten her hands on something like this…

Then again, I wasn’t sure Green Cloak was any better. Edith was crazier, but Green Cloak was, you know, dumber.

“You don’t make the calls here,” Awestruck growled at Galvanize. All the Guardians were looking slightly uncomfortable and confused. The Outliers were too, of course, but they were hiding it better.

“Of all the times to be getting insecure, Awestruck, now is not one of them.”

“And them?” He jabbed a finger in our direction. “Are you suggesting we just let them go?”

“No. When I said “all”, I meant it.” Her mech shifted slightly to look at the Outliers. “You all want to be heroes, right? That’s how you frame it. You think we’re not up to snuff, and so you’ve got to step in and do it yourselves, because you’re all teenagers and any form of complexity in systems or morality is completely foreign to you.”

Um.

“Well, congratulations, now’s your chance to actually make good on that. Consider yourselves shanghai’d, because we’re going to need every hand we can get.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support a coin in your flagon,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Filler #2

Codeine is the fucking best, you guys.

This is a short story I wrote a while ago, and found while digging through some old files. I'd actually forgotten I'd written it.

Regular updates resume on Friday.

-----

Anti-Heroism

A dark alley, city lights speckling the brick walls with shadows.

Tarmac, old and gouged, littered with dust and rubbish.

The hurried clatter of practical shoes, as a woman walked briskly, her bag swinging loosely from her arm.

The glint of metal in the hand of the man in the ski mask as he hurried to catch up with her.

The woman walked slowly, surprisingly unhurried. Perhaps she didn’t notice the clatter of footsteps.

She almost made it to the end of the alleyway.

Almost.

He grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, brandishing a knife. “H-hand it over, lady,” he said, managing to quaver only slightly. He was obviously young, probably not even out of his teens

She looked down at him. Oddly, enough she didn’t seem threatened by the knife; instead, her gaze kept darting around, as if watching for danger. “Kid, you’re obviously pretty desperate,” she said, her voice the kind of stable that only comes under pressure, “so I’m gonna cut you a deal. We both go our separate ways, I forget this ever happened, and you can rob someone else. “Kay?”

“W-what?” he said, confused. Clearly, he hadn’t expected such a glaring divergence from whatever script he’d concocted in his head to work up the courage to make an attempt in the first place.

She sighed. “Kid, you’re in over your head, and I really need to be gone. Let. Go.”

Still he persisted. “H-hand over the purse, or I-I’ll have to use this.” He brandished the knife hesitantly.

The woman gave him a flat look. “You’re a bit thick, aren’t you? Well, I didn’t want to have to do this, but-”

Crack-a-thoom!

With a burst of light, and a literally thunderous wall of noise, a figure appeared, floating in the air above the alleyway. Clad in white and blue robes, he wore a simple domino mask, and one of his gloved hands was pointed directly at the would-be mugger.

“Fear not, fair lady! For I, Thunderstar, have arrived to… err…” He faltered as he saw the woman’s facial expression, glaring at him under a creased brow. “You… ah, don’t seem very grateful, miss.”

“I cannot imagine why,” she snapped. “It’s not like-”

Whoomph!

A cloud of noxious fumes rolled over the alleyway, leaving them coughing and gagging. When it cleared, a woman stood there, wearing dirty-green and brown spandex. “Halt, criminal!” she cried, puffing out her chest. “Windbreak has arrived to- wait, what?” She turned towards Thunderstar. “What are you doing-”

Splat-crunch! “Aaaarrgggghhhttthe Regenerator has arrived to… hold on-“

A cloud of darkness – “Shadowstrike here to save the day! Wait-”

The floor distending and warping – “Fear not! ‘Tis the Underminer-”

A red blur – “The Flasher is here, in record time, to save-“

A flutter of a cape – “I am justice. I am the- wait, seriously?”

On and on, they kept coming, until the entire alley was full, and then they started spilling out onto the street.

Finally, silence.

“Well,” Thunderstar said after a couple of seconds, “if anyone cares, I was here first.”

“Screw that,” Windbreak shouted, “this is my route and you know it.”

“What?!” cried a voice from the back of the crowd. “You know very well that it’s a Tuesday, and Tuesday means that my patrol gets this alleyway.”

“Unless,” another voice cajoled, “it’s a date that’s divisible by seven, which today is.”

“Ah, but you see, today is three days before the winter equinox-”

“-you’ve forgotten to consider today’s prime-number-temperature-“

“-but what about that meteor shower three days ago-“

“-nonsense, it’s not prime in Celsius-“

“-evident that I deserve to deal with-

“-what do you mean, Celsius? We don’t use-“

“-as the intersection of an odd-numbered street and-“

-very specifically agreed on Celsius-“

“This is pathetic.”
The woman’s strident tone cut through the chatter. They all stopped and looked at her, bemused.

“You all know that, right? I mean, you can’t possibly not, can you? You’ve all been given these amazing powers, and you’re using them to stop petty crime. No, scratch that, you’re using them to argue about stopping petty crime.”

“Hey, that’s a little unfair,” Thunderstar said, apparently having decided that he was the group’s spokesperson. “I mean, it’s not like we have anything better to do. I mean, people get superpowers, and there’s not a single supervillain? Come on!” There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd.
She gave them a flat stare. “That’s it? That’s your best defence? This is the best thing you can think of doing? You could be,” she gestured vaguely, “out there, making things better for everyone!”

“We are,” someone said indignantly. “We’re stopping crime and stuff.”

“No, you aren’t. You’re stopping crimes, as in isolated incidents. You could fixing the socioeconomic factors that cause people to turn to crime in the first place. You,” she pointed to Thunderstar, “could be helping crops grow, ending droughts, changing weather patterns, and saving the lives of millions. And that’s just you. Altogether, the lot of you could make the world twice the place it is today, and you’re just the ‘heroes’,” she air-quoted, “of one city. But no. Instead, you faff about creating ridiculously complicated systems of who gets to punch a scared kid or whomever in the face when.” She took a deep breath. “Fix the system, instead of punching the waste products. Then you get to call yourselves heroes.”

Silence.

Someone coughed.

A few shuffled their feet, others gave each other looks which, if they had to be condensed into a single word, would give a clear, resounding “What?”

The woman sighed. “Look,” she said. “I’m not bossing you around. I’m not telling what to do, I’m telling you what you should already be doing.” She waved a hand in a nonspecific manner. “Now leave.”

“But what about the…” Windbreak’s voice trailed off as she noticed that the would-be robber had run off, as any sensible person would when confronted with an alley full of walking WMDs.

“Exactly. There’s no crime here, and even if there was, I could have handled it on my own. You try to ‘do good’ in the most inefficient, ineffective way possible and you still manage to screw that up. Go.”

At first, nothing happened. Then, one by one, members of the crowd started disappearing, in all the myriad ways they’d arrived. A trickle became a stream became a flood, and soon only Thunderstar remained.

He floated closer to the woman, who remained unfazed. “He ran,” he said. “Why didn’t you?”

“Because someone needed to say something. Someone needed to break from the pattern.”

“Or maybe because you like feeling superior to people,” he said. But as he started to rise and glow, she thought she heard him mutter: “Doesn’t make you wrong, though.” And then the hero was gone.

The woman stood alone in the alleyway. After a few seconds, she pulled a cigarette out of her pocket and lit it up.

“Or maybe because,” she said to no one in particular, “I needed you all out of the way.”

There was a puff of smoke, and then the woman was gone.

“Suckers.”

Filler #1

Greetings from the past! Right now, while you're reading this, I'm currently whacked out of my mind on pain meds, and probably asleep, so past me is taking it upon himself to have something prepared. Not a real update, sorry, I didn't have the time to get one done, but I do have something I wrote a little while ago. It's the prologue to a novel I'm workshopping right now, tentatively titled The Silence Above. Hope you enjoy it!

-----

When the assassin came through her window, Magister Hahla was ready for them.

The slight figure clambered over the sill and into the room, lithe and nimble, clothed in dark gray wraps that covered their entire form. A simple leather belt was strapped over one shoulder, and on it were secured blades of various sizes and shapes. Curiously, although there were buckles and contraptions to allow for easy release that were visibly knocking against each other, not a whisper could be heard.

The room was large and spacious, but dark, the only light coming from the window that its newest occupant had just entered through. It was the same slightly-squashed circle shape as the tower that it occupied, and divided into two sections, with identical staircases around the edges of the room leading up to a raised portion on the opposite side. Thick, ornate banisters lined the edges, blocking most of the upper half of the room from view. Only the tall, covered window could be seen behind them, as well as the top of a few bookshelves when viewed from the right angle.

Directly opposite the open window was what appeared to be a lab area, with benches covered in various unrecognizable paraphernalia. Strangely, though, all the furniture there had been pushed to the sides, somewhat haphazardly, and there was a dark sheet draped over the doorway. Whoever had done it had obviously been in a hurry; a few pieces had fallen onto the floor, and one corner of the sheet had come loose and was hanging low.

As soon as the assassin had cleared the window, a set of symbols lit up underneath it, intricate, curling letters that had been carved into the stone. An unearthly keening sounded from them as their light flared, and a wall of force slammed into the assassin from behind, hurling them forward and away from the window. The few pieces of furniture that had been nearby were caught in the blast, but instead of being flung away, they were obliterated in an instant, a storm of splinters and shards embedding themselves in the walls. A few caught the assassin in their back, but still no sound came from them as they landed in an unsteady half crouch in the center of the lab

“Curious.” The voice was dispassionate and level, and seemed to boom from every corner of the room at once. “You should currently be a bloody stain on my wall. Or on the sheet, I suppose.” Footsteps clacked and echoed through the room, and the assassin looked up towards the balcony to see a tall figure appear from behind the banister. Despite the late hour, the magister was dressed in full garb, orange and red robes that flowed behind her and draped from her limbs and shoulders. Her straight black hair was up, bound in intricate patterns through the gaps in the copper circle that signified her rank among her colleagues. She was surprisingly young, too, but stress and wear had prematurely lined her olive skin with creases. “Perhaps I made an error in the kha rune.” Her hands were folded behind her back, so the assassin could not get any read on her emotions. To do so was rude to an unbelievable degree under normal circumstances; it was safe to say, though, that these fell outside such considerations. “I suppose it won’t matter soon.”

Despite the spines of wood sticking out of their back, the assassin moved with a lithe, fluid grace. Their hands became blurs of barely visible motion. Knives disappeared from the strap and, in an blink, were hurtling towards the magister. Their aim was unerringly accurate: all would have struck their target dead-on in the chest, if she hadn’t raised one hand and stopped them cold. She flicked a wrist imperiously, and they were flung away to embed themselves in the walls. “Really,” she said, in the same flat, emotionless voice. “Now I’m very eager to know how you managed to kill the others.” Her other hand emerged from behind her back, and hovering above it was a shimmering, hazy sphere of air. “Well,” she amended, “not that eager.”

The sphere slammed into the space that, seconds ago, had contained the assassin, crossing the room in an instant. As soon as it hit, it plumed outwards, the rapidly-expanding heat only trackable by the shimmer it caused in the air. The wooden floor charred immediately, blackening and contracting with shrieks of protest, and any living thing that had been caught inside it would almost certainly have had the flesh broiled straight off their bones. The assassin, though, had already moved by the time it hit, dashing towards the door with the sheet over it, as if making to run away.

Hahla took two quick steps over to the banisters, and, acting on a suspicion, leaned over it to look down at the door. Sure enough, two more knives flew up at her face almost immediately, which she deflected with the same ease as the first batch (but still stepped back from the edge). Instead of running through the door, the assassin had launched themselves up the wall, and was now clambering upwards with unnatural ease. The fact that they had still been able to throw knives while doing so was enough of a testament to that.

In seconds, they had reached the top and vaulted over, one hand reaching behind their back. As soon as all their weight was on the banister, though, the magister pointed at it, and it disintegrated into dust. The assassin fell, hand still grasping at whatever weapon was behind their back, but before they could reach it, or even hit the ground, they froze.

“I always suspected those other magisters were incompetent,” Hahla said, poise unbroken as she held one fist clenched in front of her, holding her would-be killer in place. “But I had no idea that they were bad enough to be killed by an amateur like you.” She began pacing slowly in a semi-circle, inspecting them. “Knives?” She absently flicked her free hand to indicate the question; evidently, with her intruder neutralized, she felt propriety once again had a place. She leaned around, sticking herself slightly over the edge, looking for the weapon they had been reaching for. “A gun? Your acrobatic skills are impressive, I’ll admit, but you obviously had no idea what you were doing. That four died to your hand…” She signed shame, and admonishment. “I’ll have to speak to the high magisters about a review for the whole sterium.” Shame, again.

She stopped pacing directly in front of the assassin, and turned to face them, looking down her nose. “Now, what to do with you.” Disgust, and consideration. “I suppose the most expedient answer is just to kill you.” The assassin’s eyes locked on to her at that, but instead of fear, they narrowed with hate. “Oh,” she said, noticing the emotion, “a savage. Well, that does make the decision somewhat easier. There are some tests I’ve been wanting to run on wual’s effect on human flesh, you see.” Her disgust sign with those words was long and broad. “That is, if you warrenspawn even are human.” She reached for the wraps around their face. “Let’s find-”

She tugged on the fabric, and with a small amount of resistance, it came away, to reveal skin as olive as her own, rather than the pale color of the savages, and a mouth bared in a vicious grin. As she did so, her fingers ever-so-faintly touched skin, but she immediately jerked them back like they’d been burned. She stumbled backwards, hand unconsciously splaying fingers in shock. “No,” she breathed out. “It can’t be.”

The assassin’s grin grew wider, and then they slowly, very deliberately, waggled the fingers of one hand. Which they should have not been able to do.

Panicking, Hahla summoned up another ball of heat and flung it at them, the keening filling the room. When it came close to them, though, it simply… unraveled, dissipating into nothingness as the noise dampened away to the same. The invisible bindings holding them up disappeared, and they fell to the ground, landing without a sound. They pulled two more knives from their belt, holding them casually by their side as they stood up. Another ball of superheated air disappeared as they began walking forward towards the stricken magister, who had lost her balance and was now frantically backpedaling away on her backside. If anyone else had been in the room, they would have been disgusted to see the look of naked panic that spread across her face as everything she threw at the approaching figure came undone. Walls of force, barriers of solidified air, bolts of bitter cold, ear-piercing shrieks; all had as much effect as a feather against a stone. “Please,” she begged as her back hit the wall, her arsenal exhausted. “Oh songs above, please. Why are you doing this? What did I ever do to you?” Another sphere was forming in front of her, but she didn’t fire it, seemingly knowing it would be fruitless.

The assassin stopped in front of her, their face cold and emotionless, very much a mirror of what Hahla’s only a minute ago. Their mouth opened, forming words, but no sound came out.

“What?” asked the magister, confused. “I can’t…”

The assassin sighed soundlessly, flicked a hand, and the shimmering ball exploded. She didn’t even have time to scream before the meat was stripped from her bones and her brain boiled inside her skull. In an instant, she was reduced to a charred skeleton, with only remnants of flesh remaining at the points furthest away from the origin. The metal circlet, hair supporting it burned away, fell to the ground with a soft clang, glowing a bright cherry red as it began to burn into the wood.

The heat rolled over the assassin, scorching the floor around their feet, but leaving them untouched.  They pursed their lips, staring down at the corpse in front of them, but their expression quickly turned to one of grim satisfaction. They turned and walked away, as the wooden floor behind them caught fire, quickly spreading outwards and up the walls.

They stopped in front of the window they’d entered through, looking pensive for a moment, then used one of the knives to scratch three words into the stone next to it, before clambering out again and disappearing into the night.

You’re all next.

Prepared 20-VII

HANNAH
Run Away, And Never Return.

Everything was happening too fast. I stared at Ricochet’s limp form, frozen in place and panicking. This wasn’t happening, this wasn’t happening, this wasn’t-

“Stop. Not now. The others need to know. You can freak out later.”

I don’t- I gathered myself, switched. Okay. ““They’re, uh-” my voice caught in my throat, “spreading out, looking for it, somewhere in fifty meters, and- Ricochet is… down. She’s been shot.” I couldn’t bear to stick around to see the reaction, and I was back, staring at Porter’s back.

“Okay, it’s just him. You can take him. Hit him from behind, try and-”

With an unholy scream, Skew came charging around the corner, nearly bowling me over, and slammed into Porter, bearing him to the ground.

Oh. I didn’t realize they were that close. Skew had charged on ahead of the others, but they were close behind. “Skew!” Void yelled at him, which was about as effective as shouting at a wall. “D*mnit. Round them up,” she said to the others.
“We have the numbers advantage, so take advantage of it.”

They split off, moving towards the mercenaries and Prowlers still in the open.

Which abruptly left me with nothing to do. Skew seemed to have Porter well in hand (by which I meant that I wasn’t going anywhere near someone that obviously, apocalyptically ticked off) and Void was moving towards Ricochet. I didn’t want to go and help the others fight; it felt like giving up my presence was the wrong thing to do, and I wasn’t going to be moving around a fight while invisible and get friendly-fired to death. I guess I’m looking for this datapad, then. If I were a crazy gun-obsessed vigilante, where around here would I hide something?

I turned, scanning the area. There weren’t that many options, and all of them had been taken by one of the bad guys. Abandoned building across the road, two piers, bus stop, some kind of small security shack? All of them seemed equally likely. The piers were being handled by the Outliers, so that left security shack, building, bus stop.

“Eenie meenie minie-”

No.

“Fine, be a spoilsport.”

We need to think about this.
“Based on what? You’ve got literally no idea about any of these. Guessing is all we have. It could be any of the three.”

Or… My eyes fell on the sewer grate a few feet away.

“...”

It makes sense.

“No. No more sewers.”

You think I'm happy about it? Retreading the same darn thing over and over?

“You understand we’re going to stink for days?”

You understand your priorities are way off?

“Let me have this.”

The grate was really darn heavy, and I couldn’t use my powers without revealing myself, but I eventually managed to my fingers into the gaps, lift it above the lip and slide it partially open, just enough to slip through. It was a pretty safe bet no-one was paying enough attention to notice it, but just in case, I replaced so that it was almost back in place, with just a sliver of a gap to let the light through. No easy feat when hanging from a ladder, but I managed.

Sadly, I didn’t find a room with a chest in the center, bathed in a perfect halo of light, and the datapad inside. It was just a sewer, like the others, with nothing in sight that looked even remotely like a hiding place.

“Good guess, dingus.”

Shush, there’s probably more of those tunnels around here. The sewer stretched out for a long while to my left and right, but straight ahead of me was another shorter path, and then a t-junction. Investigating it revealed that it was the same as the previous one, with one crucial difference: a rectangular concrete doorway, out of sight from where the entrance was. Unlike the others, though, this one actually had a door on it, a solid steel slab with a chunk lock attached.

No one was going to see me down here, so I made a clone and crushed the lock in my hand, then swung the door open. It was soundless and smooth, enough so that I almost hit myself with it. Behind it was a short dark corridor, and a small, square room, with, I kid you not, a single light hanging from the ceiling, pointing at a large metal safe.

“Item get,” I muttered to myself as I began walking forward.

“It’s absolutely trapped, right?”

No crap. I ghosted just before entering the room properly, and as I looked down, I could just barely see the light reflecting off of a tripwire as my legs passed through it. Wasn’t hard to figure out what would have happened if I’d pulled that.

There were probably other traps as well, but I didn’t see any obvious signs of them as I walked up to the safe, and crouched down in front of it. It had a large, complicated looking dial in the center, which seemed like too much trouble, so I just pushed a finger through the seam of the door and dragged it through the hinges. The door fell forward and hit the ground with a clang, revealing the interior, and the datapad.

There was other stuff too; some large oddly-coloured bullets, what looked like an old CB radio, a single, battered notebook, green with a fraying spine, and money. Quite a bit of it, multiple stacks in multiple currencies. Suddenly, I felt a bit bad for breaking the door, but it wasn’t like she had given me the code. Besides, all the traps were still there. I picked up the datapad, tried to put the door back in place as best I could, and turned around to leave.

Hugging the pad to my chest seemed to allow me to keep holding it when I ghosted, like doing so with my glasses had made them invisible along with me. I shut the door behind me, went to switch back, but then reconsidered and left my real body there. It was probably safer that way.

When I pushed the grate out of the way and stuck my head out, it was clear that the fight was over. The Outliers had the Prowlers and mercenaries tied and/or cuffed to various objects, including Porter, who had been dragged away from Ricochet, and were now sort of milling about. Kai was near them, but still slightly separate, leaning against a wall with her arms folded. Skew was lying on her back next to Ricochet, who had rolled over onto her back and was now pressing her hands to her wound. Seeing that was a relief: I didn’t know her, but as a general rule I’m more of a fan of people living.

“Hey, guys!” I yelled at the group as I clambered out of the sewer, waving the datapad with one hand. “Is this it?”

“Yep,” said Green Cloak’s voice from behind me, and something pulled the pad out of my hand. Hearing her voice, I instinctively spun around, trying to hit her, but she was already gone, the suction left in her place pulling me forward slightly.

I spun around, wide-eyed, trying to follow where she’d gone, but I couldn’t see her anywhere.

“Are you,” Skew’s voice said, and I turned back to see her pulling herself up into something resembling a sitting position, “F***ING KIDDING ME?” The others were yelling, spreading out and darting around as she continued to yell from her prone position.

I stared mutely down at my hand. Something was bubbling up inside me, like boiling acid or liquid nitrogen, something that had been building all night. It forced its way up my throat, and out my mouth, and I clutched at my hair and screamed, wordless frustration and anger and the sheer frickin’ pointlessness of it all condensed into a single sound.

“Bad night, huh?” called a familiar voice. Hollow, echoey.

Oh, no.

I looked up to see Stump standing on a rooftop above us, flanked by the other Guardians, and behind them, all four members of Valiant.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support serial (geddit) escalation,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Patreon Updates

I've made some changes to the reward tiers over on Patreon. Now, all donors get access to the early updates, while $5-and-up donors get access to bonus content, some of which will be stuff that's previously on the site, some of which will be entirely new, and some of which will just be random crap. If you enjoy reading the story, consider becoming a patron! Or just keep doing what you're doing, I really don't mind.